Bibliomania in the Middle Ages
by Frederick Somner Merryweather
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With an Introduction by CHARLES ORR Librarian of Case Library


Copyright, 1900 By Meyer Bros. & Co.

Louis Weiss & Co. Printers.... 118 Fulton Street ... New York

Bibliomania in the Middle Ages



From the Anglo-Saxon and Norman Periods to the Introduction of Printing into England, with Anecdotes Illustrating the History of the Monastic Libraries of Great Britain in the Olden Time by F. Somner Merryweather, with an Introduction by Charles Orr, Librarian of Case Library.


In every century for more than two thousand years, many men have owed their chief enjoyment of life to books. The bibliomaniac of today had his prototype in ancient Rome, where book collecting was fashionable as early as the first century of the Christian era. Four centuries earlier there was an active trade in books at Athens, then the center of the book production of the world. This center of literary activity shifted to Alexandria during the third century B. C. through the patronage of Ptolemy Soter, the founder of the Alexandrian Museum, and of his son, Ptolemy Philadelphus; and later to Rome, where it remained for many centuries, and where bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs were gradually evolved, and from whence in time other countries were invaded.

For the purposes of the present work the middle ages cover the period beginning with the seventh century and ending with the time of the invention of printing, or about seven hundred years, though they are more accurately bounded by the years 500 and 1500 A. D. It matters little, however, since there is no attempt at chronological arrangement.

About the middle of the present century there began to be a disposition to grant to mediaeval times their proper place in the history of the preservation and dissemination of books, and Merryweather's Bibliomania in the Middle Ages was one of the earliest works in English devoted to the subject. Previous to that time, those ten centuries lying between the fall of the Roman Empire and the revival of learning were generally referred to as the Dark Ages, and historians and other writers were wont to treat them as having been without learning or scholarship of any kind.

Even Mr. Hallam,[1] with all that judicial temperament and patient research to which we owe so much, could find no good to say of the Church or its institutions, characterizing the early university as the abode of "indigent vagabonds withdrawn from usual labor," and all monks as positive enemies of learning.

The gloomy survey of Mr. Hallam, clouded no doubt by his antipathy to all things ecclesiastical, served, however, to arouse the interest of the period, which led to other studies with different results, and later writers were able to discern below the surface of religious fanaticism and superstition so characteristic of those centuries, much of interest in the history of literature; to show that every age produced learned and inquisitive men by whom books were highly prized and industriously collected for their own sakes; in short, to rescue the period from the stigma of absolute illiteracy.

If the reader cares to pursue the subject further, after going through the fervid defense of the love of books in the middle ages, of which this is the introduction, he will find outside of its chapters abundant evidence that the production and care of books was a matter of great concern. In the pages of Mores Catholici; or Ages of Faith, by Mr. Kenelm Digby,[2] or of The Dark Ages, by Dr. S. R. Maitland,[3] or of that great work of recent years, Books and their Makers during the Middle Ages, by Mr. George Haven Putnam,[4] he will see vivid and interesting portraits of a great multitude of mediaeval worthies who were almost lifelong lovers of learning and books, and zealous laborers in preserving, increasing and transmitting them. And though little of the mass that has come down to us was worthy of preservation on its own account as literature, it is exceedingly interesting as a record of centuries of industry in the face of such difficulties that to workers of a later period might have seemed insurmountable.

A further fact worthy of mention is that book production was from the art point of view fully abreast of the other arts during the period, as must be apparent to any one who examines the collections in some of the libraries of Europe. Much of this beauty was wrought for the love of the art itself. In the earlier centuries religious institutions absorbed nearly all the social intellectual movements as well as the possession of material riches and land. Kings and princes were occupied with distant wars which impoverished them and deprived literature and art of that patronage accorded to it in later times. There is occasional mention, however, of wealthy laymen, whose religious zeal induced them to give large sums of money for the copying and ornamentation of books; and there were in the abbeys and convents lay brothers whose fervent spirits, burning with poetical imagination, sought in these monastic retreats and the labor of writing, redemption from their past sins. These men of faith were happy to consecrate their whole existence to the ornamentation of a single sacred book, dedicated to the community, which gave them in exchange the necessaries of life.

The labor of transcribing was held, in the monasteries, to be a full equivalent of manual labor in the field. The rule of St. Ferreol, written in the sixth century, says that, "He who does not turn up the earth with the plough ought to write the parchment with his fingers."

Mention has been made of the difficulties under which books were produced; and this is a matter which we who enjoy the conveniences of modern writing and printing can little understand. The hardships of the scriptorium were greatest, of course, in winter. There were no fires in the often damp and ill-lighted cells, and the cold in some of the parts of Europe where books were produced must have been very severe. Parchment, the material generally used for writing upon after the seventh century, was at some periods so scarce that copyists were compelled to resort to the expedient of effacing the writing on old and less esteemed manuscripts.[5] The form of writing was stiff and regular and therefore exceedingly slow and irksome.

In some of the monasteries the scriptorium was at least at a later period, conducted more as a matter of commerce, and making of books became in time very profitable. The Church continued to hold the keys of knowledge and to control the means of productions; but the cloistered cell, where the monk or the layman, who had a penance to work off for a grave sin, had worked in solitude, gave way to the apartment specially set aside, where many persons could work together, usually under the direction of a librarius or chief scribe. In the more carefully constructed monasteries this apartment was so placed as to adjoin the calefactory, which allowed the introduction of hot air, when needed.

The seriousness with which the business of copying was considered is well illustrated by the consecration of the scriptorium which was often done in words which may be thus translated: "Vouchsafe, O Lord, to bless this work-room of thy servants, that all which they write therein may be comprehended by their intelligence and realized in their work."

While the work of the scribes was largely that of copying the scriptures, gospels, and books of devotion required for the service of the church, there was a considerable trade in books of a more secular kind. Particularly was this so in England. The large measure of attention given to the production of books of legends and romances was a distinguishing feature of the literature of England at least three centuries previous to the invention of printing. At about the twelfth century and after, there was a very large production and sale of books under such headings as chronicles, satires, sermons, works of science and medicine, treatises on style, prose romances and epics in verse. Of course a large proportion of these were written in or translated from the Latin, the former indicating a pretty general knowledge of that language among those who could buy or read books at all. That this familiarity with the Latin tongue was not confined to any particular country is abundantly shown by various authorities.

Mr. Merryweather, whose book, as has been intimated, is only a defense of bibliomania itself as it actually existed in the middle ages, gives the reader but scant information as to processes of book-making at that time. But thanks to the painstaking research of others, these details are now a part of the general knowledge of the development of the book. The following, taken from Mr. Theodore De Vinne's Invention of Printing, will, we think, be found interesting:

"The size most in fashion was that now known as the demy folio, of which the leaf is about ten inches wide and fifteen inches long, but smaller sizes were often made. The space to be occupied by the written text was mapped out with faint lines, so that the writer could keep his letters on a line, at even distance from each other and within the prescribed margin. Each letter was carefully drawn, and filled in or painted with repeated touches of the pen. With good taste, black ink was most frequently selected for the text; red ink was used only for the more prominent words, and the catch-letters, then known as the rubricated letters. Sometimes texts were written in blue, green, purple, gold or silver inks, but it was soon discovered that texts in bright color were not so readable as texts in black.

"When the copyist had finished his sheet he passed it to the designer, who sketched the border, pictures and initials. The sheet was then given to the illuminator, who painted it. The ornamentation of a mediaeval book of the first class is beyond description by words or by wood cuts. Every inch of space was used. Its broad margins were filled with quaint ornaments, sometimes of high merit, admirably painted in vivid colors. Grotesque initials, which, with their flourishes, often spanned the full height of the page, or broad bands of floriated tracery that occupied its entire width, were the only indications of changes of chapter or subject. In printer's phrase the composition was "close-up and solid" to the extreme degree of compactness. The uncommonly free use of red ink for the smaller initials was not altogether a matter of taste; if the page had been written entirely in black ink it would have been unreadable through its blackness. This nicety in writing consumed much time, but the mediaeval copyist was seldom governed by considerations of time or expense. It was of little consequence whether the book he transcribed would be finished in one or in ten years. It was required only that he should keep at his work steadily and do his best. His skill is more to be commended than his taste. Many of his initials and borders were outrageously inappropriate for the text for which they were designed. The gravest truths were hedged in the most childish conceits. Angels, butterflies, goblins, clowns, birds, snails and monkeys, sometimes in artistic, but much oftener in grotesque and sometimes in highly offensive positions are to be found in the illuminated borders of copies of the gospels and writings of the fathers.

"The book was bound by the forwarder, who sewed the leaves and put them in a cover of leather or velvet; by the finisher, who ornamented the cover with gilding and enamel. The illustration of book binding, published by Amman in his Book of Trades, puts before us many of the implements still in use. The forwarder, with his customary apron of leather, is in the foreground, making use of a plow-knife for trimming the edges of a book. The lying press, which rests obliquely against the block before him, contains a book that has received the operation of backing-up from a queer shaped hammer lying upon the floor. The workman at the end of the room is sewing together the sections of a book, for sewing was properly regarded as a man's work, and a scientific operation altogether beyond the capacity of the raw seamstress. The work of the finisher is not represented, but the brushes, the burnishers, the sprinklers and the wheel-shaped gilding tools hanging against the wall leave us no doubt as to their use. There is an air of antiquity about everything connected with this bookbindery which suggests the thought that its tools and usages are much older than those of printing. Chevillier says that seventeen professional bookbinders found regular employment in making up books for the University of Paris, as early as 1292. Wherever books were produced in quantities, bookbinding was set apart as a business distinct from that of copying.

"The poor students who copied books for their own use were also obliged to bind them, which they did in a simple but efficient manner by sewing together the folded sheets, attaching them to narrow parchment bands, the ends of which were made to pass through a cover of stout parchment at the joint near the back. The ends of the bands were then pasted down under the stiffening sheet of the cover, and the book was pressed. Sometimes the cover was made flexible by the omission of the stiffening sheet; sometimes the edges of the leaves were protected by flexible and overhanging flaps which were made to project over the covers; or by the insertion in the covers of stout leather strings with which the two covers were tied together. Ornamentation was entirely neglected, for a book of this character was made for use and not for show. These methods of binding were mostly applied to small books intended for the pocket; the workmanship was rough, but the binding was strong and serviceable."

The book of Mr. Merryweather, here reprinted, is thought worthy of preservation in a series designed for the library of the booklover. Its publication followed shortly after that of the works of Digby and Maitland, but shows much original research and familiarity with early authorities; and it is much more than either of these, or of any book with which we are acquainted, a plea in defense of bibliomania in the middle ages. Indeed the charm of the book may be said to rest largely upon the earnestness with which he takes up his self-imposed task. One may fancy that after all he found it not an easy one; in fact his "Conclusion" is a kind of apology for not having made out a better case. But this he believes he has proven, "that with all their superstition, with all their ignorance, their blindness to philosophic light—the monks of old were hearty lovers of books; that they encouraged learning, fostered it, and transcribed repeatedly the books which they had rescued from the destruction of war and time; and so kindly cherished and husbanded them as intellectual food for posterity. Such being the case, let our hearts look charitably upon them; and whilst we pity them for their superstition, or blame them for their pious frauds, love them as brother men and workers in the mines of literature."

Of the author himself little can be learned. A diligent search revealed little more than the entry in the London directory which, in various years from 1840 to 1850, gives his occupation as that of bookseller, at 14 King Street, Holborn. Indeed this is shown by the imprint of the title-page of Bibliomania, which was published in 1849. He published during the same year Dies Dominicae, and in 1850 Glimmerings in the Dark, and Lives and Anecdotes of Misers. The latter has been immortalized by Charles Dickens as one of the books bought at the bookseller's shop by Boffin, the Golden Dustman, and which was read to him by the redoubtable Silas Wegg during Sunday evenings at "Boffin's Bower."[6]


[1] Hallam, Henry. "Introduction to the Literature of Europe." 4 vols. London.

[2] Digby, Kenelm. "Mores Catholici; or Ages of Faith." 3 vols. London, 1848.

[3] Maitland, S. R. "The Dark Ages; a Series of Essays Intended to Illustrate the State of Religion and Literature in the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries." London, 1845.

[4] Putnam, George Haven. "Books and their Makers during the Middle Ages; a Study of the Conditions of the Production and Distribution of Literature from the Fall of the Roman Empire to the Close of the Seventeenth Century."

[5] Lacroix, Paul. "Arts of the Middle Ages." Our author, however (vide page 58, note), quotes the accounts of the Church of Norwich to show that parchments sold late in the thirteenth century at about 1 d. per sheet; but Putnam and other writers state that up to that time it was a very costly commodity.

[6] Dickens's Mutual Friend.


Introductory Remarks—Monachism—Book Destroyers—Effects of the Reformation on Monkish Learning, etc.

In recent times, in spite of all those outcries which have been so repeatedly raised against the illiterate state of the dark ages, many and valuable efforts have been made towards a just elucidation of those monkish days. These labors have produced evidence of what few anticipated, and some even now deny, viz., that here and there great glimmerings of learning are perceivable; and although debased, and often barbarous too, they were not quite so bad as historians have usually proclaimed them. It may surprise some, however, that an attempt should be made to prove that, in the olden time in "merrie Englande," a passion which Dibdin has christened Bibliomania, existed then, and that there were many cloistered bibliophiles as warm and enthusiastic in book collecting as the Doctor himself. But I must here crave the patience of the reader, and ask him to refrain from denouncing what he may deem a rash and futile attempt, till he has perused the volume and thought well upon the many facts contained therein. I am aware that many of these facts are known to all, but some, I believe, are familiar only to the antiquary—the lover of musty parchments and the cobwebbed chronicles of a monastic age. I have endeavored to bring these facts together—to connect and string them into a continuous narrative, and to extract from them some light to guide us in forming an opinion on the state of literature in those ages of darkness and obscurity; and here let it be understood that I merely wish to give a fact as history records it. I will not commence by saying the Middle Ages were dark and miserably ignorant, and search for some poor isolated circumstance to prove it; I will not affirm that this was pre-eminently the age in which real piety flourished and literature was fondly cherished, and strive to find all those facts which show its learning, purposely neglecting those which display its unlettered ignorance: nor let it be deemed ostentation when I say that the literary anecdotes and bookish memoranda now submitted to the reader have been taken, where such a course was practicable, from the original sources, and the references to the authorities from whence they are derived have been personally consulted and compared.

That the learning of the Middle Ages has been carelessly represented there can be little doubt: our finest writers in the paths of history have employed their pens in denouncing it; some have allowed difference of opinion as regards ecclesiastical policy to influence their conclusions; and because the poor scribes were monks, the most licentious principles, the most dismal ignorance and the most repulsive crimes have been attributed to them. If the monks deserved such reproaches from posterity, they have received no quarter; if they possessed virtues as christians, and honorable sentiments as men, they have met with no reward in the praise or respect of this liberal age: they were monks! superstitious priests and followers of Rome! What good could come of them? It cannot be denied that there were crimes perpetrated by men aspiring to a state of holy sanctity; there are instances to be met with of priests violating the rules of decorum and morality; of monks revelling in the dissipating pleasures of sensual enjoyments, and of nuns whose frail humanity could not maintain the purity of their virgin vows. But these instances are too rare to warrant the slanders and scurrility that historians have heaped upon them. And when we talk of the sensuality of the monks, of their gross indulgences and corporeal ease, we surely do so without discrimination; for when we speak of the middle ages thus, our thoughts are dwelling on the sixteenth century, its mocking piety and superstitious absurdity; but in the olden time of monastic rule, before monachism had burst its ancient boundaries, there was surely nothing physically attractive in the austere and dull monotony of a cloistered life. Look at the monk; mark his hard, dry studies, and his midnight prayers, his painful fasting and mortifying of the flesh; what can we find in this to tempt the epicure or the lover of indolence and sloth? They were fanatics, blind and credulous—I grant it. They read gross legends, and put faith in traditionary lies—I grant it; but do not say, for history will not prove it, that in the middle ages the monks were wine bibbers and slothful gluttons. But let not the Protestant reader be too hastily shocked. I am not defending the monastic system, or the corruption of the cloister—far from it. I would see the usefulness of man made manifest to the world; but the measure of my faith teaches charity and forgiveness, and I can find in the functions of the monk much that must have been useful in those dark days of feudal tyranny and lordly despotism. We much mistake the influence of the monks by mistaking their position; we regard them as a class, but forget from whence they sprang; there was nothing aristocratic about them, as their constituent parts sufficiently testify; they were, perhaps, the best representatives of the people that could be named, being derived from all classes of society. Thus Offa, the Saxon king, and Caedman, the rustic herdsman, were both monks. These are examples by no means rare, and could easily be multiplied. Such being the case, could not the monks more readily feel and sympathize with all, and more clearly discern the frailties of their brother man, and by kind admonition or stern reproof, mellow down the ferocity of a Saxon nature, or the proud heart of a Norman tyrant? But our object is not to analyze the social influence of Monachism in the middle ages: much might be said against it, and many evils traced to the sad workings of its evil spirit, but still withal something may be said in favor of it, and those who regard its influence in those days alone may find more to admire and defend than they expected, or their Protestant prejudices like to own.

But, leaving these things, I have only to deal with such remains as relate to the love of books in those times. I would show the means then in existence of acquiring knowledge, the scarcity or plentitude of books, the extent of their libraries, and the rules regulating them; and bring forward those facts which tend to display the general routine of a literary monk, or the prevalence of Bibliomania in those days.

It is well known that the great national and private libraries of Europe possess immense collections of manuscripts, which were produced and transcribed in the monasteries, during the middle ages, thousands there are in the rich alcoves of the Vatican at Rome, unknown save to a choice and favored few; thousands there are in the royal library of France, and thousands too reposing on the dusty shelves of the Bodleian and Cottonian libraries in England; and yet, these numbers are but a small portion—a mere relic—of the intellectual productions of a past and obscure age.[7] The barbarians, who so frequently convulsed the more civilized portions of Europe, found a morbid pleasure in destroying those works which bore evidence to the mental superiority of their enemies. In England, the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans were each successively the destroyers of literary productions. The Saxon Chronicle, that invaluable repository of the events of so many years, bears ample testimony to numerous instances of the loss of libraries and works of art, from fire, or by the malice of designing foes. At some periods, so general was this destruction, so unquenchable the rapacity of those who caused it, that instead of feeling surprised at the manuscripts of those ages being so few and scanty, we have cause rather to wonder that so many have been preserved. For even the numbers which escaped the hands of the early and unlettered barbarians met with an equally ignominious fate from those for whom it would be impossible to hold up the darkness of their age as a plausible excuse for the commission of this egregious folly. These men over whose sad deeds the bibliophile sighs with mournful regret, were those who carried out the Reformation, so glorious in its results; but the righteousness of the means by which those results were effected are very equivocal indeed. When men form themselves into a faction and strive for the accomplishment of one purpose, criminal deeds are perpetrated with impunity, which, individually they would blush and scorn to do; they feel no direct responsibility, no personal restraint; and, such as possess fierce passions, under the cloak of an organized body, give them vent and gratification; and those whose better feelings lead them to contemplate upon these things content themselves with the conclusion, that out of evil cometh good.

The noble art of printing was unable, with all its rapid movements, to rescue from destruction the treasures of the monkish age; the advocates of the Reformation eagerly sought for and as eagerly destroyed those old popish volumes, doubtless there was much folly, much exaggerated superstition pervading them; but there was also some truth, a few facts worth knowing, and perhaps a little true piety also, and it would have been no difficult matter to have discriminated between the good and the bad. But the careless grants of a licentious monarch conferred a monastery on a court favorite or political partizan without one thought for the preservation of its contents. It is true a few years after the dissolution of these houses, the industrious Leland was appointed to search and rummage over their libraries and to preserve any relic worthy of such an honor; but it was too late, less learned hands had rifled those parchment collections long ago, mutilated their finest volumes by cutting out with childish pleasure the illuminations with which they were adorned; tearing off the bindings for the gold claps which protected the treasures within,[8] and chopping up huge folios as fuel for their blazing hearths, and immense collections were sold as waste paper. Bale, a strenuous opponent of the monks, thus deplores the loss of their books: "Never had we bene offended for the losse of our lybraryes beynge so many in nombre and in so desolate places for the moste parte, yf the chief monuments and moste notable workes of our excellent wryters had bene reserved, yf there had bene in every shyre of Englande but one solemyne library to the preservacyon of those noble workers, and preferrement of good learnynges in oure posteryte it had bene yet somewhat. But to destroye all without consyderacion, is and wyll be unto Englande for ever a most horryble infamy amonge the grave senyours of other nations. A grete nombre of them whych purchased those superstycyose mansyons reserved of those lybrarye bokes, some to serve theyr jakes, some to scoure theyr candelstyckes, and some to rubbe theyr bootes; some they solde to the grossers and sope sellers, and some they sent over see to the bokebynders,[9] not in small nombre, but at tymes whole shippes ful. I know a merchant man, whyche shall at thys tyme be nameless, that boughte the contents of two noble lybraryes for xl shyllyngs pryce, a shame is it to be spoken. Thys stuffe hathe he occupyed in the stide of graye paper for the space of more than these ten years, and yet hath store ynough for as many years to come. A prodyguose example is this, and to be abhorred of all men who love theyr natyon as they shoulde do."[10]

However pernicious the Roman religion might have been in its practice, it argues little to the honor of the reformers to have used such means as this to effect its cure; had they merely destroyed those productions connected with the controversies of the day, we might perhaps have excused it, on the score of party feeling; but those who were commissioned to visit the public libraries of the kingdom were often men of prejudiced intellects and shortsighted wisdom, and it frequently happened that an ignorant and excited mob became the executioners of whole collections.[11] It would be impossible now to estimate the loss. Manuscripts of ancient and classic date would in their hands receive no more respect than some dry husky folio on ecclesiastical policy; indeed, they often destroyed the works of their own party through sheer ignorance. In a letter sent by Dr. Cox to William Paget, Secretary, he writes that the proclamation for burning books had been the occasion of much hurt. "For New Testaments and Bibles (not condemned by proclamation) have been burned, and that, out of parish churches and good men's houses. They have burned innumerable of the king's majesties books concerning our religion lately set forth."[12] The ignorant thus delighted to destroy that which they did not understand, and the factional spirit of the more enlightened would not allow them to make one effort for the preservation of those valuable relics of early English literature, which crowded the shelves of the monastic libraries; the sign of the cross, the use of red letters on the title page, the illuminations representing saints, or the diagrams and circles of a mathematical nature, were at all times deemed sufficient evidence of their popish origin and fitness for the flames.[13]

When we consider the immense number of MSS. thus destroyed, we cannot help suspecting that, if they had been carefully preserved and examined, many valuable and original records would have been discovered. The catalogues of old monastic establishments, although containing a great proportion of works on divine and ecclesiastical learning, testify that the monks did not confine their studies exclusively to legendary tales or superstitious missals, but that they also cultivated a taste for classical and general learning. Doubtless, in the ruin of the sixteenth century, many original works of monkish authors perished, and the splendor of the transcript rendered it still more liable to destruction; but I confess, as old Fuller quaintly says, that "there were many volumes full fraught with superstition which, notwithstanding, might be useful to learned men, except any will deny apothecaries the privilege of keeping poison in their shops, when they can make antidotes of them. But besides this, what beautiful bibles! Rare fathers! Subtle schoolmen! Useful historians! Ancient! Middle! Modern! What painful comments were here amongst them! What monuments of mathematics all massacred together!"[14]

More than a cart load of manuscripts were taken away from Merton College and destroyed, and a vast number from the Baliol and New Colleges, Oxford;[15] but these instances might be infinitely multiplied, so terrible were those intemperate outrages. All this tends to enforce upon us the necessity of using considerable caution in forming an opinion of the nature and extent of learning prevalent during those ages which preceded the discovery of the art of printing.


[7] The sad page in the Annals of Literary History recording the destruction of books and MSS. fully prove this assertion. In France, in the year 1790, 4,194,000 volumes were burnt belonging to the suppressed monasteries, about 25,000 of these were manuscripts.

[8] "About this time (Feb. 25, 1550) the Council book mentions the king's sending a letter for the purging his library at Westminster. The persons are not named, but the business was to cull out all superstitious books, as missals, legends, and such like, and to deliver the garniture of the books, being either gold or silver, to Sir Anthony Aucher. These books were many of them plated with gold and silver and curiously embossed. This, as far as we can collect, was the superstition that destroyed them. Here avarice had a very thin disguise, and the courtiers discovered of what spirit they were to a remarkable degree."—Collier's Eccle. History, vol. ii. p. 307.

[9] Any one who can inspect a library of ancient books will find proof of this. A collection of vellum scraps which I have derived from these sources are very exciting to a bibliomaniac, a choice line so abruptly broken, a monkish or classical verse so cruelly mutilated! render an inspection of this odd collection, a tantalizing amusement.

[10] Bale's Leland's Laboryouse Journey, Preface.

[11] The works of the Schoolmen, viz.: of P. Lombard, T. Aquinas, Scotus and his followers and critics also, and such that had popish scholars in them they cast out of all college libraries and private studies.—Wood's Hist. Oxon., vol. i. b. 1. p. 108. And "least their impiety and foolishness in this act should be further wanting, they brought it to pass that certain rude young men should carry this great spoil of books about the city on biers, which being so done, to set them down in the common market place, and then burn them, to the sorrow of many, as well as of the Protestants as of the other party. This was by them styled 'the funeral of Scotus the Scotists.' So that at this time and all this king's reign was seldom seen anything in the universities but books of poetry, grammar, idle songs, and frivolous stuff."—Ibid., Wood is referring to the reign of Edward VI.

[12] Wood's Hist. Oxon, b. i. p. 81.

[13] "Gutch has printed in his 'Collectiana' an order from the Queen's commissioners to destroy all capes, vestments, albes, missals, books, crosses, and such other idolatrous and superstitious monuments whatsoever.'—vol. ii. p. 280."

[14] Fuller's Church History, b. vi. p. 335.

[15] Wood's Oxon, vol. i. b. i. p. 107


Duties of the monkish librarian.—Rules of the library.—Lending books.—Books allowed the monks for private reading.—Ridiculous signs for books.—How the libraries were supported.—A monkish blessing on books, etc.

In this chapter I shall proceed to inquire into the duties of the monkish amanuensis, and show by what laws and regulations the monastic libraries were governed. The monotonous habits of a cloistered bibliophile will, perhaps, appear dry and fastidious, but still it is curious and interesting to observe how carefully the monks regarded their vellum tomes, how indefatigably they worked to increase their stores, and how eagerly they sought for books. But besides being regarded as a literary curiosity, the subject derives importance by the light it throws on the state of learning in those dark and "bookless" days, and the illustrations gleaned in this way fully compensate for the tediousness of the research.

As a bibliophile it is somewhat pleasing to trace a deep book passion growing up in the barrenness of the cloister, and to find in some cowled monk a bibliomaniac as warm and enthusiastic in his way as the renowned "Atticus," or the noble Roxburghe, of more recent times. It is true we can draw no comparison between the result of their respective labors. The hundreds, which in the old time were deemed a respectable if not an extensive collection, would look insignificant beside the ostentatious array of modern libraries.

But the very tenor of a monastic life compelled the monk to seek the sweet yet silent companionship of books; the rules of his order and the regulations of his fraternity enforced the strictest silence in the execution of his daily and never-ceasing duties. Attending mass, singing psalms, and midnight prayers, were succeeded by mass, psalms and prayers in one long undeviating round of yearly obligations; the hours intervening between these holy exercises were dull and tediously insupportable if unoccupied. Conversation forbidden, secular amusements denounced, yet idleness reproached, what could the poor monk seek as a relief in this distress but the friendly book; the willing and obedient companion of every one doomed to lonely hours and dismal solitude?

The pride and glory of a monastery was a well stored library, which was committed to the care of the armarian, and with him rested all the responsibility of its preservation. According to the Consuetudines Canonicorum Regularium, it was his duty to have all the books of the monastery in his keeping catalogued and separately marked with their proper names.[16] Some of these old catalogues have been preserved, and, viewed as bibliographical remains of the middle ages, are of considerable importance; indeed, we cannot form a correct idea of the literature of those remote times without them. Many productions of authors are recorded in these brief catalogues whose former existence is only known to us by these means. There is one circumstance in connexion with them that must not be forgotten: instead of enumerating all the works which each volume contained, they merely specified the first, so that a catalogue of fifty or a hundred volumes might probably have contained nearly double that number of distinct works. I have seen MSS. formerly belonging to monasteries, which have been catalogued in this way, containing four or five others, besides the one mentioned. Designed rather to identify the book than to describe the contents of each volume, they wrote down the first word or two of the second leaf—this was the most prevalent usage; but they often adopted other means, sometimes giving a slight notice of the works which a volume contained; others took the precaution of noting down the last word of the last leaf but one,[17] a great advantage, as the monkish student could more easily detect at a glance whether the volume was perfect. The armarian was, moreover, particularly enjoined to inspect with scrupulous care the more ancient volumes, lest the moth-worms should have got at them, or they had become corrupt or mutilated, and, if such were the case, he was with great care to restore them. Probably the armarian was also the bookbinder to the monastery in ordinary cases, for he is here directed to cover the volumes with tablets of wood, that the inside may be preserved from moisture, and the parchment from the injurious effects of dampness. The different orders of books were to be kept separate from one another, and conveniently arranged; not squeezed too tight, lest it should injure or confuse them, but so placed that they might be easily distinguished, and those who sought them might find them without delay or impediment.[18] Bibliomaniacs have not been remarkable for their memory or punctuality, and in the early times the borrower was often forgetful to return the volume within the specified time. To guard against this, many rules were framed, nor was the armarian allowed to lend the books, even to neighboring monasteries, unless he received a bond or promise to restore them within a certain time, and if the person was entirely unknown, a book of equal value was required as a security for its safe return. In all cases the armarian was instructed to make a short memorandum of the name of the book which he had lent or received. The "great and precious books" were subject to still more stringent rules, and although under the conservation of the librarian, he had not the privilege of lending them to any one without the distinct permission of the abbot.[19] This was, doubtless, practised by all the monastic libraries, for all generously lent one another their books. In a collection of chapter orders of the prior and convent of Durham, bearing date 1235, it is evident that a similar rule was observed there, which they were not to depart from except at the desire of the bishop.[20] According to the constitutions for the government of the Abingdon monastery, the library was under the care of the Cantor, and all the writings of the church were consigned to his keeping. He was not allowed to part with the books or lend them without a sufficient deposit as a pledge for their safe return, except to persons of consequence and repute.[21] This was the practice at a much later period. When that renowned bibliomaniac, Richard de Bury, wrote his delightful little book called Philobiblon, the same rules were strictly in force. With respect to the lending of books, his own directions are that, if any one apply for a particular volume, the librarian was to carefully consider whether the library contained another copy of it; if so, he was at liberty to lend the book, taking care, however, that he obtained a security which was to exceed the value of the loan; they were at the same time to make a memorandum in writing of the name of the book, and the nature of the security deposited for it, with the name of the party to whom it was lent, with that of the officer or librarian who delivered it.[22]

We learn by the canons before referred to, that the superintendence of all the writing and transcribing, whether in or out of the monastery, belonged to the office of the armarian, and that it was his duty to provide the scribes with parchment and all things necessary for their work, and to agree upon the price with those whom he employed. The monks who were appointed to write in the cloisters he supplied with copies for transcription; and that no time might be wasted, he was to see that a good supply was kept up. No one was to give to another what he himself had been ordered to write, or presume to do anything by his own will or inclination. Nor was it seemly that the armarian even should give any orders for transcripts to be made without first receiving the permission of his superior.[23]

We here catch a glimpse of the quiet life of a monkish student, who labored with this monotonous regularity to amass his little library. If we dwell on these scraps of information, we shall discover some marks of a love of learning among them, and the liberality they displayed in lending their books to each other is a pleasing trait to dwell upon. They unhesitatingly imparted to others the knowledge they acquired by their own study with a brotherly frankness and generosity well becoming the spirit of a student. This they did by extensive correspondence and the temporary exchange of their books. The system of loan, which they in this manner carried on to a considerable extent, is an important feature in connection with our subject; innumerable and interesting instances of this may be found in the monastic registers, and the private letters of the times. The cheapness of literary productions of the present age render it an absolute waste of time to transcribe a whole volume, and except with books of great scarcity we seldom think of borrowing or lending one; having finished its perusal we place it on the shelf and in future regard it as a book of reference; but in those days one volume did the work of twenty. It was lent to a neighboring monastery, and this constituted its publication; for each monastery thus favored, by the aid perhaps of some half dozen scribes, added a copy to their own library, and it was often stipulated that on the return of the original a correct duplicate should accompany it, as a remuneration to its author. Nor was the volume allowed to remain unread; it was recited aloud at meals, or when otherwise met together, to the whole community. We shall do well to bear this in mind, and not hastily judge of the number of students by a comparison with the number of their books. But it was not always a mere single volume that the monks lent from their library. Hunter has printed[24] a list of books lent by the Convent of Henton, A. D. 1343, to a neighboring monastery, containing twenty volumes. The engagement to restore these books was formally drawn up and sealed.

In the monasteries the first consideration was to see that the library was well stored with those books necessary for the performance of the various offices of the church, but besides these the library ought, according to established rules, to contain for the "edification of the brothers" such as were fit and needful to be consulted in common study. The Bible and great expositors; Bibliothecae et majores expositores, books of martyrs, lives of saints, homilies, etc.;[25] these and other large books the monks were allowed to take and study in private, but the smaller ones they could only study in the library, lest they should be lost or mislaid. This was also the case with respect to the rare and choice volumes. When the armarian gave out books to the monks he made a note of their nature, and took an exact account of their number, so that he might know in a moment which of the brothers had it for perusal.[26] Those who studied together were to receive what books they choose; but when they had satisfied themselves, they were particularly directed to restore them to their assigned places; and when they at any time received from the armarian a book for their private reading, they were not allowed to lend it to any one else, or to use it in common, but to reserve it especially for his own private reading. The same rule extended to the singers, who if they required books for their studies, were to apply to the abbot.[27] The sick brothers were also entitled to the privilege of receiving from the armarian books for their solace and comfort; but as soon as the lamps were lighted in the infirmary the books were put away till the morning, and if not finished, were again given out from the library.[28] In the more ancient monasteries a similar case was observed with respect to their books. The rule of St. Pacome directed that the utmost attention should be paid to their preservation, and that when the monks went to the refectory they were not to leave their books open, but to carefully close and put them in their assigned places. The monastery of St. Pacome contained a vast number of monks; every house, says Mabillon, was composed of not less than forty monks, and the monastery embraced thirty or forty houses. Each monk, he adds, possessed his book, and few rested without forming a library; by which we may infer that the number of books was considerable.[29] Indeed, it was quite a common practice in those days, scarce as books were, to allow each of the monks one or more for his private study, besides granting them access to the library. The constitutions of Lanfranc, in the year 1072, directed the librarian, at the commencement of Lent, to deliver a book to each of the monks for their private reading, allowing them a whole year for its perusal.[30] There is one circumstance connected with the affairs of the library quite characteristic of monkish superstition, and bearing painful testimony to their mistaken ideas of what constituted "good works." In Martene's book there is a chapter, De Scientia et Signis—degrading and sad; there is something withal curious to be found in it. After enjoining the most scrupulous silence in the church, in the refectory, in the cloister, and in the dormitory, at all times, and in all seasons; transforming those men into perpetual mutes, and even when "actually necessary," permitting only a whisper to be articulated "in a low voice in the ear," submissa voce in aure, it then proceeds to describe a series of fantastic grimaces which the monks were to perform on applying to the armarian for books. The general sign for a book, generali signi libri, was to "extend the hand and make a movement as if turning over the leaves of a book." For a missal the monk was to make a similar movement with a sign of the cross; for the gospels the sign of the cross on the forehead; for an antiphon or book of responses he was to strike the thumb and little finger of the other hand together; for a book of offices or gradale to make the sign of a cross and kiss the fingers; for a tract lay the hand on the abdomen and apply the other hand to the mouth; for a capitulary make the general sign and extend the clasped hands to heaven; for a psalter place the hands upon the head in the form of a crown, such as the king is wont to wear.[31] Religious intolerance was rampant when this rule was framed; hot and rancorous denunciation was lavished with amazing prodigality against works of loose morality or heathen origin; nor did the monks feel much compassion—although they loved to read them—for the old authors of antiquity. Pagans they were, and therefore fit only to be named as infidels and dogs, so the monk was directed for a secular book, "which some pagan wrote after making the general sign to scratch his ear with his hand, just as a dog itching would do with his feet, because infidels are not unjustly compared to such creatures—quia nec immerito infideles tali animanti contparantur."[32] Wretched bigotry and puny malice! Yet what a sad reflection it is, that with all the foul and heartburning examples which those dark ages of the monks afford, posterity have failed to profit by them—religious intolerance, with all its vain-glory and malice, flourishes still, the cankering worm of many a Christian blossom! Besides the duties which we have enumerated, there were others which it was the province of the armarian to fulfil. He was particularly to inspect and collate those books which, according to the decrees of the church, it was unlawful to possess different from the authorized copies; these were the bible, the gospels, missals, epistles, collects graduales, antiphons, hymns, psalters, lessions, and the monastic rules; these were always to be alike even in the most minute point.[33] He was moreover directed to prepare for the use of the brothers short tables respecting the times mentioned in the capitulary for the various offices of the church, to make notes upon the matins, the mass, and upon the different orders.[34] In fact, the monkish amanuensis was expected to undertake all those matters which required care and learning combined. He wrote the letters of the monastery, and often filled the office of secretary to my Lord Abbot. In the monasteries of course the services of the librarian were unrequited by any pecuniary remuneration, but in the cathedral libraries a certain salary was sometimes allowed them. Thus we learn that the amanuensis of the conventual church of Ely received in the year 1372 forty-three shillings and fourpence for his annual duties;[35] and Oswald, Bishop of Worcester, in the tenth century, gave considerable landed possessions to a monk of that church as a recompense for his services as librarian.[36] In some monasteries, in the twelfth century, if not earlier, they levied a tax on all the members of the community, who paid a yearly sum to the librarian for binding, preserving, and purchasing copies for the library. One of these rules, bearing date 1145, was made by Udon, Abbot of St. Pere en Vallee a Chantres, and that it might be more plausibly received, he taxed himself as well as all the members of his own house.[37] The librarian sometimes, in addition to his regular duties, combined the office of precentor to the monastery.[38] Some of their account-books have been preserved, and by an inspection of them, we may occasionally gather some interesting and curious hints, as to the cost of books and writing materials in those times. As may be supposed, the monkish librarians often became great bibliophiles, for being in constant communication with choice manuscripts, they soon acquired a great mania for them. Posterity are also particularly indebted to the pens of these book conservators of the middle ages; for some of the best chroniclers and writers of those times were humble librarians to some religious house.

Not only did the bibliophiles of old exercise the utmost care in the preservation of their darling books, but the religious basis of their education and learning prompted them to supplicate the blessing of God upon their goodly tomes. Although I might easily produce other instances, one will suffice to give an idea of their nature: "O Lord, send the virtue of thy Holy Spirit upon these our books; that cleansing them from all earthly things, by thy holy blessing, they may mercifully enlighten our hearts and give us true understanding; and grant that by thy teaching, they may brightly preserve and make full an abundance of good works according to thy will."[39]


[16] Cap. xxi. Martene de Antiquis Ecclesiae Ritibus, tom. iii. p. 262.

[17] See Catalogue of Hulne Abbey, Library MS. Harleian. No. 3897.

[18] Martene de Antiq. Eccle. Rit., tom. iii. p. 263.

[19] Ibid. Ingulphus tells us that the same rule was observed in Croyland Abbey.—Apud Gale, p. 104.

[20] Marked b. iv. 26. Surtee Publications, vol. i. p. 121.

[21] Const. admiss. Abbat, et gubernatione Monast. Abendum Cottonian M.S. Claudius, b. vi. p. 194.

[22] Philobiblon, 4to. Oxon, 1599, chap. xix.

[23] Martene de Ant. Eccl. Ribibus, tom. iii. p. 263. For an inattention to this the Council of Soissons, in 1121, ordered some transcripts of Abelard's works to be burnt, and severely reproved the author for his unpardonable neglect.—Histoire Litteraire de la France, tom. ix. p. 28.

[24] Catalogues of Monastic Libraries, pp. 16, 17.

[25] Const. Canon. Reg. ap. Martene, tom. iii. p. 263.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., tom. iii. cap. xxxvi. pp. 269, 270.

[28] Martene, tom. iii. p. 331. For a list of some books applied to their use, see MS. Cot. Galba, c. iv. fo. 128.

[29] Mabillon, Traite des Etudes Monastiques, 4to. Paris 1691, cap. vi. p. 34.

[30] Wilkin's Concil. tom. i. p. 332.

[31] Stat. pro Reform. ordin. Grandimont. ap. Martene cap. x.

[32] Ibid., tom. iv. pp. 289, 339.

[33] Const. Canon. Reg. ap. Martene, tom. iii. p. 263.

[34] Ibid., cap. xxi. p. 263.

[35] Stevenson's Supple. to Bentham's Hist. of the Church of Ely, p. 51.

[36] Thomas' Survey of the Church of Worcester, p. 45.

[37] Mabillon. Annal. tom. vi. pp. 651 and 652. Hist. Litt. de la France, ix. p. 140.

[38] They managed the pecuniary matters of the fraternity. William of Malmsbury was precentor as well as librarian to his monastery.

[39] Martene de Antiq. Eccl. Ritibus ii. p. 302.


Scriptoria and the Scribes.—Care in copying.—Bible reading among the monks.—Booksellers in the middle ages.—Circulating libraries.—Calligraphic art, etc.

As the monasteries were the schools of learning, so their occupants were the preservers of literature, and, as Herault observes, had they not taken the trouble to transcribe books, the ancients had been lost to us for ever; to them, therefore, we owe much. But there are many, however, who suppose that the monastic establishments were hotbeds of superstition and fanaticism, from whence nothing of a useful or elevated nature could possibly emanate. They are too apt to suppose that the human intellect must be altogether weak and impotent when confined within such narrow limits; but truth and knowledge can exist even in the dark cells of a gloomy cloister, and inspire the soul with a fire that can shed a light far beyond its narrow precincts. Indeed, I scarce know whether to regret, as some appear to do, that the literature and learning of those rude times was preserved and fostered by the Christian church; it is said, that their strict devotion and religious zeal prompted them to disregard all things but a knowledge of those divine, but such is not the case; at least, I have not found it so; it is true, as churchmen, they were principally devoted to the study of divine and ecclesiastical lore; but it is also certain that in that capacity they gradually infused the mild spirit of their Master among the darkened society over which they presided, and among whom they shone as beacons of light in a dreary desert. But the church did more than this. She preserved to posterity the profane learnings of Old Greece and Rome; copied it, multiplied it, and spread it. She recorded to after generations in plain, simple language, the ecclesiastical and civil events of the past, for it is from the terse chronicles of the monkish churchmen that we learn now the history of what happened then. Much as we may dislike the monastic system, the cold, heartless, gloomy ascetic atmosphere of the cloister, and much as we may deplore the mental dissipation of man's best attributes, which the system of those old monks engendered, we must exercise a cool and impartial judgment, and remember that what now would be intolerable and monstrously inconsistent with our present state of intellectuality, might at some remote period, in the ages of darkness and comparative barbarism, have had its virtues and beneficial influences. As for myself, it would be difficult to convince me, with all those fine relics of their deeds before me, those beauteous fanes dedicated to piety and God, those libraries so crowded with their vellum tomes, so gorgeously adorned, and the abundant evidence which history bears to their known charity and hospitable love, that these monks and their system was a scheme of dismal barbarism; it may be so, but my reading has taught me different; but, on the other hand, although the monks possessed many excellent qualities, being the encouragers of literature, the preservers of books, and promulgators of civilization, we must not hide their numerous and palpable faults, or overlook the poison which their system of monachism ultimately infused into the very vitals of society. In the early centuries, before the absurdities of Romanism were introduced, the influence of the monastic orders was highly beneficial to our Saxon ancestors, but in after ages the Church of England was degraded by the influence of the fast growing abominations of Popedom. She drank copiously of the deadly potion, and became the blighted and ghostly shadow of her former self. Forgetting the humility of her divine Lord, she sought rather to imitate the worldly splendor and arrogance of her Sovereign Pontiff. The evils too obviously existed to be overlooked; but it is not my place to further expose them; a more pleasing duty guides my pen; others have done all this, lashing them painfully for their oft-told sins. Frail humanity glories in chastizing the frailty of brother man. But we will not denounce them here, for did not the day of retribution come? And was not justice satisfied? Having made these few preliminary remarks, let us, in a brief manner, inquire into the system observed in the cloisters by the monks for the preservation and transcription of manuscripts. Let us peep into the quiet cells of those old monks, and see whether history warrants the unqualified contempt which their efforts in this department have met with.

In most monasteries there were two kinds of Scriptoria, or writing offices; for in addition to the large and general apartment used for the transcription of church books and manuscripts for the library, there were also several smaller ones occupied by the superiors and the more learned members of the community, as closets for private devotion and study. Thus we read, that in the Cistercian orders there were places set apart for the transcription of books called Scriptoria, or cells assigned to the scribes, "separate from each other," where the books might be transcribed in the strictest silence, according to the holy rules of their founders.[40] These little cells were usually situated in the most retired part of the monastery, and were probably incapable of accommodating more than one or two persons;[41] dull and comfortless places, no doubt, yet they were deemed great luxuries, and the use of them only granted to such as became distinguished for their piety, or erudition. We read that when David went to the Isle of Wight, to Paulinus, to receive his education, he used to sup in the Refectory, but had a Scriptorium, or study, in his cell, being a famous scribe.[42] The aged monks, who often lived in these little offices, separate from the rest of the scribes, were not expected to work so arduously as the rest. Their employment was comparatively easy; nor were they compelled to work so long as those in the cloister.[43] There is a curious passage in Tangmar's Life of St. Bernward, which would lead us to suspect that private individuals possessed Scriptoria; for, says he, there are Scriptoria, not only in the monasteries, but in other places, in which are conceived books equal to the divine works of the philosophers.[44] The Scriptorium of the monastery in which the general business of a literary nature was transacted, was an apartment far more extensive and commodious, fitted up with forms and desks methodically arranged, so as to contain conveniently a great number of copyists. In some of the monasteries and cathedrals, they had long ranges of seats one after another, at which were seated the scribes, one well versed in the subject on which the book treated, recited from the copy whilst they wrote; so that, on a word being given out by him, it was copied by all.[45] The multiplication of manuscripts, under such a system as this, must have been immense; but they did not always make books, fecit libros, as they called it, in this wholesale manner, but each monk diligently labored at the transcription of a separate work.

The amount of labor carried on in the Scriptorium, of course, in many cases depended upon the revenues of the abbey, and the disposition of the abbot; but this was not always the case, as in some monasteries they undertook the transcription of books as a matter of commerce, and added broad lands to their house by the industry of their pens. But the Scriptorium was frequently supported by resources solely applicable to its use. Laymen, who had a taste for literature, or who entertained an esteem for it in others, often at their death bequeathed estates for the support of the monastic Scriptoria. Robert, one of the Norman leaders, gave two parts of the tythes of Hatfield, and the tythes of Redburn, for the support of the Scriptorium of St. Alban's.[46] The one belonging to the monastery of St. Edmundsbury was endowed with two mills,[47] and in the church of Ely there is a charter of Bishof Nigellus, granting to the Scriptorium of the monastery the tythes of Wythessey and Impitor, two parts of the tythes of the Lordship of Pampesward, with 2s. 2d., and a messuage in Ely ad faciendos et emandandos libros.[48]

The abbot superintended the management of the Scriptorium, and decided upon the hours for their labor, during which time they were ordered to work with unremitting diligence, "not leaving to go and wander in idleness," but to attend solely to the business of transcribing. To prevent detraction or interruption, no one was allowed to enter except the abbot, the prior, the sub-prior, and the armarian,[49] as the latter took charge of all the materials and implements used by the transcribers, it was his duty to prepare and give them out when required; he made the ink and cut the parchment ready for use. He was strictly enjoined, however, to exercise the greatest economy in supplying these precious materials, and not to give more copies "nec artavos, nec cultellos, nec scarpellae, nec membranes," than was actually necessary, or than he had computed as sufficient for the work; and what the armarian gave them the monks were to receive without contradiction or contention.[50]

The utmost silence prevailed in the Scriptorium; rules were framed, and written admonitions hung on the walls, to enforce the greatest care and diligence in copying exactly from the originals. In Alcuin's works we find one of these preserved; it is a piece inscribed "Ad Musaeum libros scribentium;" the lines are as follows:

"Hic sideant sacrae scribentes famina legis, Nec non sanctorum dicta sacrata Patrum, Haec interserere caveant sua frivola verbis, Frivola nec propter erret et ipsa manus:

Correctosque sibi quaerant studiose libellos, Tramite quo recto penna volantis eat. Per cola distinquant proprios, et commata sensus, Et punctos ponant ordine quosque suo.

Ne vel falsa legat, taceat vel forte repente, Ante pios fratres, lector in Ecclesia. Est opus egregium sacros jam scribete libros, Nec mercede sua scriptor et ipse caret.

Fodere quam vites, melius est scribere libros, Ille suo ventri serviet, iste animae. Vel nova, vel vetera poterit proferre magister Plurima, quisque legit dicta sacrata Patrum."[51]

Other means were resorted to besides these to preserve the text of their books immaculate, it was a common practice for the scribe at the end of his copy, to adjure all who transcribed from it to use the greatest care, and to refrain from the least alteration of word or sense. Authors more especially followed this course, thus at the end of some we find such injunctions as this.

"I adjure you who shall transcribe this book, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by his glorious coming, who will come to judge the quick and the dead, that you compare what you transcribe and diligently correct it by the copy from which you transcribe it—this adjuration also—and insert it in your copy."[52]

The Consuetudines Canonicorum, before referred to, also particularly impressed this upon the monks, and directed that all the brothers who were engaged as scribes, were not to alter any writing, although in their own mind they might think it proper, without first receiving the sanction of the abbot, "on no account were they to commit so great a presumption."[53] But notwithstanding that the scribes were thus enjoined to use the utmost care in copying books, doubtless an occasional error crept in, which many causes might have produced, such as bad light, haste, a little drowsiness, imperfect sight, or even a flickering lamp was sufficient to produce some trivial error; but in works of importance the smallest error is of consequence, as some future scribe puzzled by the blunder, might, in an attempt to correct, still more augment the imperfection; to guard against this, with respect to the Scriptures, the most critical care was enforced. Monks advanced in age were alone allowed to transcribe them, and after their completion they were read—revised—and reread again, and it is by that means that so uniform a reading has been preserved, and although slight differences may here and there occur, there are no books which have traversed through the shadows of the dark ages, that preserve their original text so pure and uncorrupt as the copies of the Scriptures, the fathers of the church, and the ancient writings of the classic authors; sometimes, it is true, a manuscript of the last order is discovered possessing a very different reading in some particular passage; but these appear rather as futile emendations or interpolations of the scribe than as the result of a downright blunder, and are easily perceivable, for when the monkish churchmen tampered with ancient copies, it generally originated in a desire to smooth over the indecencies of the heathen authors, and so render them less liable to corrupt the holy contemplations of the devotee; and while we blame the pious fraud, we cannot but respect the motive that dictated it.

But as regards the Scriptures, we talk of the carelessness of the monks and the interpolations of the scribes as if these were faults peculiar to the monastic ages alone; alas! the history of Biblical transmission tells us differently, the gross perversions, omissions, and errors wrought in the holy text, proclaim how prevalent these same faults have been in the ages of printed literature, and which appear more palpable by being produced amidst deep scholars, and surrounded with all the critical acumen of a learned age. Five or six thousand of these gross blunders, or these wilful mutilations, protest the unpleasant fact, and show how much of human grossness it has acquired, and how besmeared with corruption those sacred pages have become in passing through the hands of man, and the "revisings" of sectarian minds. I am tempted to illustrate this by an anecdote related by Sir Nicholas L'Estrange of Hunstanton, and preserved in a MS. in the Harlein collection.—"Dr. Usher, Bish. of Armath, being to preach at Paules Crosse and passing hastily by one of the stationers, called for a Bible, and had a little one of the London edition given him out, but when he came to looke for his text, that very verse was omitted in the print: which gave the first occasion of complaint to the king of the insufferable negligence, and insufficience of the London printers and presse, and bredde that great contest that followed, betwixt the univers. of Cambridge and London stationers, about printing of the Bibles."[54] Gross and numerous indeed were the errors of the corrupt bible text of that age, and far exceeding even the blunders of monkish pens, and certainly much less excusable, for in those times they seldom had a large collection of codices to compare, so that by studying their various readings, they could arrive at a more certain and authentic version. The paucity of the sacred volume, if it rendered their pens more liable to err, served to enforce upon them the necessity of still greater scrutiny. On looking over a monastic catalogue, the first volume that I search for is the Bible; and, I feel far more disappointment if I find it not there, than I do at the absence of Horace or Ovid—there is something so desolate in the idea of a Christian priest without the Book of Life—of a minister of God without the fountain of truth—that however favorably we may be prone to regard them, a thought will arise that the absence of this sacred book may perhaps be referred to the indolence of the monkish pen, or to the laxity of priestly piety. But such I am glad to say was not often the case; the Bible it is true was an expensive book, but can scarcely be regarded as a rare one; the monastery was indeed poor that had it not, and when once obtained the monks took care to speedily transcribe it. Sometimes they only possessed detached portions, but when this was the case they generally borrowed of some neighboring and more fortunate monastery, the missing parts to transcribe, and so complete their own copies. But all this did not make the Bible less loved among them, or less anxiously and ardently studied, they devoted their days, and the long hours of the night, to the perusal of those pages of inspired truth,[55] and it is a calumny without a shadow of foundation to declare that the monks were careless of scripture reading; it is true they did not apply that vigor of thought, and unrestrained reflection upon it which mark the labors of the more modern student, nor did they often venture to interpret the hidden meaning of the holy mysteries by the powers of their own mind, but were guided in this important matter by the works of the fathers. But hence arose a circumstance which gave full exercise to their mental powers and compelled the monk in spite of his timidity to think a little for himself. Unfortunately the fathers, venerable and venerated as they were, after all were but men, with many of the frailties and all the fallabilities of poor human nature; the pope might canonize them, and the priesthood bow submissively to their spiritual guidance, still they remained for all that but mortals of dust and clay, and their bulky tomes yet retain the swarthiness of the tomb about them, the withering impress of humanity. Such being the case we, who do not regard them quite so infallible, feel no surprise at a circumstance which sorely perplexed the monks of old, they unchained and unclasped their cumbrous "Works of the Fathers," and pored over those massy expositions with increasing wonder; surrounded by these holy guides, these fathers of infallibility, they were like strangers in a foreign land, did they follow this holy saint they seemed about to forsake the spiritual direction of one having equal claims to their obedience and respect; alas! for poor old weak tradition, those fabrications of man's faulty reason were found, with all their orthodoxy, to clash woefully in scriptural interpretation. Here was a dilemma for the monkish student! whose vow of obedience to patristical guidance was thus sorely perplexed; he read and re-read, analyzed passage after passage, interpreted word after word; and yet, poor man, his laborious study was fruitless and unprofitable! What bible student can refrain from sympathizing with him amidst these torturing doubts and this crowd of contradiction, but after all we cannot regret this, for we owe to it more than my feeble pen can write, so immeasurable have been the fruits of this little unheeded circumstance. It gave birth to many a bright independent declaration, involving pure lines of scripture interpretation, which appear in the darkness of those times like fixed stars before us; to this, in Saxon days, we are indebted for the labors of AElfric and his anti-Roman doctrines, whose soul also sympathized with a later age by translating portions of the Bible into the vulgar tongue, thus making it accessible to all classes of the people. To this we are indebted for all the good that resulted from those various heterodoxies and heresies, which sometimes disturbed the church during the dark ages; but which wrought much ultimate good by compelling the thoughts of men to dwell on these important matters. Indeed, to the instability of the fathers, as a sure guide, we may trace the origin of all those efforts of the human mind, which cleared the way for the Reformation, and relieved man from the shackles of these spiritual guides of the monks.

But there were many cloistered Christians who studied the bible undisturbed by these shadows and doubts, and who, heedless of patristical lore and saintly wisdom, devoured the spiritual food in its pure and uncontaminating simplicity—such students, humble, patient, devoted, will be found crowding the monastic annals, and yielding good evidence of the same by the holy tenor of their sinless lives, their Christian charity and love.

But while so many obtained the good title of an "Amator Scripturarum," as the bible student was called in those monkish days, I do not pretend to say that the Bible was a common book among them, or that every monk possessed one—far different indeed was the case—a copy of the Old and New Testament often supplied the wants of an entire monastery, and in others, as I have said before, only some detached portions were to be found in their libraries. Sometimes they were more plentiful, and the monastery could boast of two or three copies, besides a few separate portions, and occasionally I have met with instances where besides several Biblia Optima, they enjoyed Hebrew codices and translations, with numerous copies of the gospels. We must not forget, however, that the transcription of a Bible was a work of time, and required the outlay of much industry and wealth. "Brother Tedynton," a monk of Ely, commenced a Bible in 1396, and was several years before he completed it. The magnitude of the undertaking can scarcely be imagined by those unpractised in the art of copying, but when the monk saw the long labor of his pen before him, and looked upon the well bound strong clasped volumes, with their clean vellum folios and fine illuminations, he seemed well repaid for his years of toil and tedious labor, and felt a glow of pious pleasure as he contemplated his happy acquisition, and the comfort and solace which he should hereafter derive from its holy pages! We are not surprised then, that a Bible in those days should be esteemed so valuable, and capable of realizing a considerable sum. The monk, independent of its spiritual value, regarded it as a great possession, worthy of being bestowed at his death, with all the solemnity of a testamentary process, and of being gratefully acknowledged by the fervent prayers of the monkish brethren. Kings and nobles offered it as an appropriate and generous gift, and bishops were deemed benefactors to their church by adding it to the library. On its covers were written earnest exhortations to the Bible student, admonishing the greatest care in its use, and leveling anathemas and excommunications upon any one who should dare to purloin it. For its greater security it was frequently chained to a reading desk, and if a duplicate copy was lent to a neighboring monastery they required a large deposit, or a formal bond for its safe return.[56] These facts, while they show its value, also prove how highly it was esteemed among them, and how much the monks loved the Book of Life.

But how different is the picture now—how opposite all this appears to the aspect of bible propagation in our own time. Thanks to the printing-press, to bible societies, and to the benevolence of God, we cannot enter the humblest cottage of the poorest peasant without observing the Scriptures on his little shelf—not always read, it is true—nor always held in veneration as in the old days before us—its very plentitude and cheapness takes off its attraction to irreligious and indifferent readers, but to poor and needy Christians what words can express the fulness of the blessing. Yet while we thank God for this great boon, let us refrain from casting uncharitable reflections upon the monks for its comparative paucity among them. If its possession was not so easily acquired, they were nevertheless true lovers of the Bible, and preserved and multiplied it in dark and troublous times.

Our remarks have hitherto applied to the monastic scribes alone; but it is necessary here to speak of the secular copyists, who were an important class during the middle ages, and supplied the functions of the bibliopole of the ancients. But the transcribing trade numbered three or four distinct branches. There were the Librarii Antiquarii, Notarii, and the Illuminators—occasionally these professions were all united in one—where perseverance or talent had acquired a knowledge of these various arts. There appears to have been considerable competition between these contending bodies. The notarii were jealous of the librarii, and the librarii in their turn were envious of the antiquarii, who devoted their ingenuity to the transcription and repairing of old books especially, rewriting such parts as were defective or erased, and restoring the dilapidations of the binding. Being learned in old writings they corrected and revised the copies of ancient codices; of this class we find mention as far back as the time of Cassiodorus and Isidore.[57] "They deprived," says Astle, "the poor librarii, or common scriptores, of great part of their business, so that they found it difficult to gain a subsistence for themselves and their families. This put them about finding out more expeditious methods of transcribing books. They formed the letters smaller, and made use of more conjugations and abbreviations than had been usual. They proceeded in this manner till the letters became exceedingly small and extremely difficult to be read."[58] The fact of there existing a class of men, whose fixed employment or profession was solely confined to the transcription of ancient writings and to the repairing of tattered copies, in contradistinction to the common scribes, and depending entirely upon the exercise of their art as a means of obtaining a subsistence, leads us to the conclusion that ancient manuscripts were by no means so very scarce in those days; for how absurd and useless it would have been for men to qualify themselves for transcribing these antiquated and venerable codices, if there had been no probability of obtaining them to transcribe. The fact too of its becoming the subject of so much competition proves how great was the demand for their labor.[59]

We are unable, with any positive result, to discover the exact origin of the secular scribes, though their existence may probably be referred to a very remote period. The monks seem to have monopolized for some ages the "Commercium Librorum,"[60] and sold and bartered copies to a considerable extent among each other. We may with some reasonable grounds, however, conjecture that the profession was flourishing in Saxon times; for we find several eminent names in the seventh and eighth centuries who, in their epistolary correspondence, beg their friends to procure transcripts for them. Benedict, Bishop of Wearmouth, purchased most of his book treasures at Rome, which was even at that early period probably a famous mart for such luxuries, as he appears to have journeyed there for that express purpose. Some of the books which he collected were presents from his foreign friends; but most of them, as Bede tells us, were bought by himself, or in accordance with his instructions, by his friends.[61] Boniface, the Saxon missionary, continually writes for books to his associates in all parts of Europe. At a subsequent period the extent and importance of the profession grew amazingly; and in Italy its followers were particularly numerous in the tenth century, as we learn from the letters of Gerbert, afterwards Silvester II., who constantly writes, with the cravings of a bibliomaniac, to his friends for books, and begs them to get the scribes, who, he adds, in one of his letters, may be found in all parts of Italy,[62] both in town and in the country, to make transcripts of certain books for him, and he promises to reimburse his correspondent all that he expends for the same.

These public scribes derived their principal employment from the monks and the lawyers; from the former in transcribing their manuscripts, and by the latter in drawing up their legal instruments. They carried on their avocation at their own homes like other artisans; but sometimes when employed by the monks executed their transcripts within the cloister, where they were boarded, lodged, and received their wages till their work was done. This was especially the case when some great book was to be copied, of rarity and price; thus we read of Paulinus, of St. Albans, sending into distant parts to obtain proficient workmen, who were paid so much per diem for their labor; their wages were generously supplied by the Lord of Redburn.[63]

The increase of knowledge and the foundation of the universities gave birth to the booksellers. Their occupation as a distinct trade originated at a period coeval with the foundation of these public seminaries, although the first mention that I am aware of is made by Peter of Blois, about the year 1170. I shall have occasion to speak more hereafter of this celebrated scholar, but I may be excused for giving the anecdote here, as it is so applicable to my subject. It appears, then, that whilst remaining in Paris to transact some important matter for the King of England, he entered the shop of "a public dealer in books"—for be it known that the archdeacon was always on the search, and seldom missed an opportunity of adding to his library—the bookseller, Peter tells us, offered him a tempting collection on Jurisprudence; but although his knowledge of such matters was so great that he did not require them for his own use, he thought they might be serviceable to his nephew, and after bargaining a little about the price he counted down the money agreed upon and left the stall; but no sooner was his back turned than the Provost of Sexeburgh came in to look over the literary stores of the stationer, and his eye meeting the recently sold volume, he became inspired with a wish to possess it; nor could he, on hearing it was bought and paid for by another, suppress his anxiety to obtain the treasure; but, offering more money, actually took the volume away by force. As may be supposed, Archdeacon Peter was sorely annoyed at this behavior; and "To his dearest companion and friend Master Arnold of Blois, Peter of Blois Archdeacon of Bath sent greeting," a long and learned letter, displaying his great knowledge of civil law, and maintaining the illegality of the provost's conduct.[64] The casual way in which this is mentioned make it evident that the "publico mangone Librorum" was no unusual personage in those days, but belonged to a common and recognized profession.

The vast number of students who, by the foundation of universities, were congregated together, generated of course a proportionate demand for books, which necessity or luxury prompted them eagerly to purchase: but there were poor as well as rich students educated in these great seminaries of learning, whose pecuniary means debarred them from the acquisition of such costly luxuries; and for this and other cogent reasons the universities deemed it advantageous, and perhaps expedient, to frame a code of laws and regulations to provide alike for the literary wants of all classes and degrees. To effect this they obtained royal sanction to take the trade entirely under their protection, and eventually monopolized a sole legislative power over the Librarii.

In the college of Navarre a great quantity of ancient documents are preserved, many of which relate to this curious subject. They were deposited there by M. Jean Aubert in 1623, accompanied by an inventory of them, divided into four parts by the first four letters of the alphabet. In the fourth, under D. 18, there is a chapter entitled "Des Libraires Appretiateurs, Jurez et Enlumineurs," which contains much interesting matter relating to the early history of bookselling.[65] These ancient statutes, collected and printed by the University in the year 1652,[66] made at various times, and ranging between the years 1275 and 1403, give us a clear insight into the matter.

The nature of a bookseller's business in those days required no ordinary capacity, and no shallow store of critical acumen; the purchasing of manuscripts, the work of transcription, the careful revisal, the preparation of materials, the tasteful illuminations, and the process of binding, were each employments requiring some talent and discrimination, and we are not surprised, therefore, that the avocation of a dealer and fabricator of these treasures should be highly regarded, and dignified into a profession, whose followers were invested with all the privileges, freedoms and exemptions, which the masters and students of the university enjoyed.[67] But it required these conciliations to render the restrictive and somewhat severe measures, which she imposed on the bookselling trade, to be received with any degree of favor or submission. For whilst the University of Paris, by whom these statutes were framed, encouraged and elevated the profession of the librarii, she required, on the other hand, a guarantee of their wealth and mental capacity, to maintain and to appreciate these important concessions; the bookseller was expected indeed to be well versed in all branches of science, and to be thoroughly imbued with a knowledge of those subjects and works of which he undertook to produce transcripts.[68] She moreover required of him testimonials to his good character, and efficient security, ratified by a solemn oath of allegiance,[69] and a promise to observe and submit to all the present and future laws and regulations of the university. In some cases, it appears that she restricted the number of librarii, though this fell into disuse as the wants of the students increased. Twenty-four seems to have been the original number,[70] which is sufficiently great to lead to the conclusion that bookselling was a flourishing trade in those old days. By the statutes of the university, the bookseller was not allowed to expose his transcripts for sale, without first submitting them to the inspection of certain officers appointed by the university, and if an error was discovered, the copies were ordered to be burnt or a fine levied on them, proportionate to their inaccuracy. Harsh and stringent as this may appear at first sight, we shall modify our opinion, on recollecting that the student was in a great degree dependent upon the care of the transcribers for the fidelity of his copies, which rendered a rule of this nature almost indispensable; nor should we forget the great service it bestowed in maintaining the primitive accuracy of ancient writers, and in transmitting them to us through those ages in their original purity.[71]

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